Saturday, September 12, 2009

Roots of my Notre Dame fandom

"Touchdown Jesus" at Notre Dame Stadium!

Any casual reader of my Facebook, Twitter and blog entries will notice my enthusiastic devotion to Notre Dame football. Some questions people ask me:

Did you go to Notre Dame?
No, but I have many friends who were or are students there.

Were you taught by the Holy Cross Fathers?
No, although I did play the organ once at a Mass celebrated by Father Hesberg while he was visiting a church in Southern California. Got to shake his hand, too. That was a thrill!

Well, then, why are you a fan of Notre Dame, especially since you were born in Los Angeles and should be rooting for USC?
Two words: Irish priests! I grew up with Irish priests. One of my fondest teen memories is helping out at my parish on Saturday afternoons: stuffing envelopes in the pews, changing the missalettes, putting out the bulletins, etc. After we finished, the pastor would invite us helpers to watch the afternoon Notre Dame game with him. Father would then explain the nuances of college football, and how all Catholics should be rooting for Notre Dame.

What can I say? I’m an obedient Catholic. Go, Irish!

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Meaning Behind It All

World Trade Center as seen from the International Space Station on September 11, 2001. To download this NASA image, click here.

Every generation has their “red-letter date” when people remember exactly what they were doing and where they were when they heard the news. For Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation,” it was December 7, 1941, when the Japanese Imperialist forces attacked the US Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. President Franklin Roosevelt declared it a “day of infamy.” The United States had no choice but to shed its isolationist stance and enter World War II by sending troops to both the European and Pacific fronts.

For Boomers, their date was November 22, 1963. Although I was not around during World War II, I do remember vividly the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was late morning and I was in 5th grade in Los Angeles. The teacher from next door came into our classroom and whispered something into the ear of my teacher, Miss Plested. They both started crying and that sure got the kids’ attention because we had never seen our teachers cry before. Miss Plested announced the dreadful news, and we were stunned.

The principal cancelled classes for the rest of the day and sent us all home for lunch. President Kennedy was my hero and I was stifling my emotions in front of my classmates. But by the time I arrived home I suddenly burst into tears and ran to my bedroom. My father happened to be home that morning, and both he and mom rushed over to my side. They heard the news, of course, and mom cradled me in her arms.

September 11, 2001. It was a beautiful fall morning in Portland, Oregon, and I opened my balcony window to take in the downtown view as I got ready to drive to work. As per my custom, I turned on the television to get weather and traffic reports, and there was the World Trade Center in New York City, with one tower on fire. I was a little groggy and not fully awake as I tried to comprehend what was going on. Suddenly, the cameras focused on a jetliner that was zooming dangerously low. As it crashed into the second tower, the newscaster exclaimed three simple words that I think summed it up for all of America: “Oh, my God . . .”

Writers and pundits better than me have tried to find and express the meaning behind it all. On the two red-letter dates of my lifetime, I was struck by the unity that followed in tragedy’s wake. For a short time, the world seemed to be one as we mourned the passing of President Kennedy or as we gathered in our churches, synagogues and mosques to pray during the week of 9/11. Alas, this unity was short-lived as the 1960s unfolded into more tumult and war. Strangely, this current decade has experienced a similar unfolding.

On this eighth anniversary of 9/11, let us remember those who have died or who have suffered: the victims and those brave police and firefighters who rushed to rescue them and also died trying. I pray that the unity that we glimpsed that week may someday become a lasting legacy. Perhaps that might be the meaning behind it all.

Pope Benedict's Prayer at Ground Zero

Grant Us Peace

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why two Rubber Souls?

Yesterday, 9/9/09, was an anointed Beatles Day because of the dual release of the remastered Beatles albums and the Beatles Rock Band video game. More on those two items in future blogs.

My friend and colleague, Robert Feduccia, had asked me why there were two versions of Rubber Soul, the Beatles' landmark 1965 album that was the first sign of their maturing songcraft. I was somewhat amused by that question because it showed how young my friend really is! (Or, maybe how old I really am!) Anyway, here is my explanation.

Capitol Records is the American affiliate of Britain's EMI record label. Both sides of the Atlantic had their own peculiar standards for record production and track listing. Capitol, which originally rejected the Beatles as being "too British," ate crow when the group hit it big on the Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. But rather than simply re-release the British LP With the Beatles (the group's then-current chart topper in the UK), Capitol decided to milk the Beatles for all they were worth. They renamed the album Meet the Beatles and removed several tracks to make room for some hit USA singles, namely "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "I Saw Her Standing There."

A major difference in philosophy: UK record labels didn't believe in including hit singles on albums. American labels thought that was ridiculous and saw the hit single as the way to entice buyers into buying the whole album, even though they might already have bought the 45. Also, British albums had more tracks than American albums. Hence, ever since Meet the Beatles, Capitol had to take all the removed tracks and put them onto another album, with more hit singles tacked on to fill it out and sell it. So in the USA we had The Beatles' Second Album which consisted of the removed With the Beatles tracks plus the "She Loves You" hit single. The Beatles' Second Album did not exist in the UK.

And so it went for several years. Capitol removed some tracks from the British A Hard Day's Night and included them in Something New (the group's third Capitol album) along with some tracks from British EPs that were not available in the USA ("Slow Down," "Matchbox").

EMI released Beatles for Sale. Capitol cannibalized that into Beatles '65 and included the hit singles "She's a Woman" and "I Feel Fine" (my absolute FAVORITE grade school hit, BTW).

EMI released Help! and Capitol regurgitated that into two albums: Help! (USA) and Beatles VI, which also included some leftover Beatles for Sale tracks.

Most insidious was Capitol's splitting of Rubber Soul and Revolver into THREE albums: Rubber Soul (USA), Revolver (USA), and Yesterday and Today, which included all the removed tracks from the the two British LPs plus the monster USA hit single "Yesterday," which, BTW, was NEVER released in Britain as a single. Paul's timeless solo ballad was a uniquely American phenomenon.

Needless to say, the Beatles were not pleased with Capitol's permutations, especially with Rubber Soul and Revolver since those two albums were the beginning of their emergence out of the box of their boy band image. By the time Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was produced, the group demanded that Capitol release their psychedelic masterpiece exactly as they mastered it -- or they wouldn't give it to Capitol at all. Thankfully, Capitol caved, and every Beatles album since Sgt. Pepper was the same on both sides of the Atlantic.

In fairness to Capitol, I will tip my Beatles wig respectfully to them for two major reasons: 1) Capitol added more reverb to the vocals to match American standards; and 2) Capitol turned up McCartney's bass to meet American standards. Lennon was the one who complained loudly about Capitol's cannibalism, but he did praise the American label's bass volume. "Why can't EMI turn Paul up more like in America?" he used to complain to the British engineers.

Reference point: Compare the EMI and Capitol versions of "And I Love Her." The song is great on EMI, of course, but on Capitol, Paul's bass has such presence and his vocals shine with effervescence.

Anyway, long story short, Capitol did kinda rip off the American fans with their cannibalism, but they more than made up for it with their solid remastering. And, the American track order is what we 1960s kids grew up with, and that's valid. I still cringe when I hear "Drive My Car" as the first track on "Rubber Soul." I prefer "I've Just Seen a Face" as that album's Gathering Song. :-)

I CAN'T WAIT to get my hands on the new remixed/remastered CDs!